Lately, my teenage son doesn't want to go to church with the family. I don't really want to make him go. Even though he is not especially religious right now, he is still a good boy. Should I be worried about this?
It is really common for children, and sometimes even adults, to go through a time when they don't feel like being dedicated to religion. It is hard work to live righteously, and follow religious principles. All the really religious people I know have one thing in common. They are all disciplined. Since it is so common for youth to go through a time when they want to experiment with not being committed to church, it is obviously an important part of personal spiritual development. These seemingly insignificant experiences with religion, in our youth, could very well be the very things that make us believers of a certain faith or not.
I became very religious because of a decision in my youth. When I was 14 years old, I attended a church class every weekday morning at 6:30 a.m. I was a very busy youth. I was a student body officer at my school, and editor of the school newspaper, etc. Some days I had to miss my religion class to fulfill newspaper responsibilities, among other things. On these days, I would have to leave early. As, the year progressed my class behavior was as follows; I would arrive about five minutes late every day, usually holding a piece of toast, and then I would leave about 10 minutes early for newspaper etc. Needless to say, I was really rude and a large class distraction.
Finally, my teacher could not take my behavior any longer. He told me my behavior was not acceptable and had to change. I was mad. I felt he didn't support me in all my responsibilities. (Of course, at age 14, I was too selfish to see what I was doing to him.) I let my anger build and finally decided I wouldn't attend the class any more. I told my parents what had happened and that I wasn't going to go to the religion class any more. My parents told me I could make my own choices, but I was responsible for still doing all the religious class work. So, I got the manual and started doing the class on my own. Every night and Saturday, I had to do home-study religion courses for the rest of that year. I thought I was going to be able to sleep more by missing my early morning class. Not so. I lost sleep on the other end of my day instead, trying to keep up with all the material I missed by not going to class in the morning.
In the end, I made my life more difficult. Notwithstanding, something really important happened. I learned that if I really felt something was important, it was worth missing sleep over, and that I could teach myself anything I wanted to know, if I put in the time. I don't really remember all the religious material I covered in the class, but I do remember the most important lesson I learned that year; discipline. Seemingly insignificant experiences with religion, in our youth, could very well be the very things which make us believers of a certain faith or not.
A parable: The other day I was doing some watering in my yard. I planted some new grape vines last year, and I didn't want them to dry out before we turned our sprinklers on. I filled the watering can full of water and lugged it back to the vineyard portion of our yard. I stopped at the first little vine and began to pour the water at the base of the plant. The first plant had high walls of dirt all around it. The depression around it was about 8-10 inches deep, so it held the entire can of water without spilling a drop.
The second vine's barrier was constructed the same, so it also drank an entire watering can full of water. The third and fourth vines were different though. For some reason their walls of dirt were shorter, and the plants seemed to be up higher as well. The person who planted these plants was obviously in more of a hurry than the person who planted the first two. It took me about 20 minutes to put two cans of water on the third and fourth vines. I had to let the water drip very slowly to properly absorb. If I poured too fast, the water flooded over the edge of the barrier and ran away from the plant; and was wasted. These two plants obviously needed larger barriers around them.
While crouching next to these two young plants for such a long time, I realized something profound. When we try to teach our children how to govern their own behaviors, we are initiating a lot of large drinks for their young little plants. Since the roots of our children aren't deep enough to search for the water yet, they have to have high barriers built up around them to be able to hold the water of our family vision, mission statements, and self government skills we are teaching them.
These metaphorical barriers are religion. Believing in God and participating in religious services and ceremonies throughout childhood prepares children to accept the family as the fundamental unit of society and tool for accomplishing God's will.
Religion is also self government. A person cannot be a believer of religion merely by associating with other believers. Each person must see a reason to believe on their own (vision) and then follow through with the skills presented by religious leaders of their own free choice. They must repent of their sins when they arise, and continue to evaluate their progress toward spiritual freedom.
Living religion IS spiritual self government. Living religion prepares us to learn the skills to govern our own behaviors. If your children are familiar with the truth of religion, then when you present self government principles and skills to them, they will recognize them as truth as well, and drink all you offer.
So, should you be worried about your son not wanting to go to church? Yes. All of us need deep roots in a belief system that is based upon truth and personal inspiration. Not participating in a religion could significantly decrease your son's discipline in many other areas of his life. Also, when you talk about the kind of family you want, he might not be able to take in your vision if his barriers haven't been prepared.
Each family needs to decide how important church attendance is to the happiness of the family. In my family, church attendance strengthens and unites us. Since this is the case, we consider going to church a standing instruction. If someone refuses to go to church, then they are disrespecting the family, and are most likely "out of instructional control." After age 18 it is a different story. But until then, church attendance is part of our family life. I will not discuss "out of instructional control behavior" in this post. There are many other posts which tell how to handle this kind of behavior. Depending on the youth, you may feel inspired to take a different approach. Seek inspiration. When my Dad was a boy, he didn't want to go to church with his family one Sunday. His parents decided to leave him home alone with a list of chores to do. They told him that if he wasn't planning on keeping the Sabbath, then he could do some work to make good use of his time instead. His family left him. After a few minutes of being in the house by himself, he felt guilty. He knew he had made the wrong decision, and he felt very separated from his family. He decided he would never make that decision again.
I am not saying this is the right approach, but it certainly worked for my father. Likewise, when I was young, I lived just about the exact experience too, and it worked for me too. Just make sure that all television and computers are not accessible if you take this approach. You wouldn't want any rewards around the house for choosing selfishness and laziness. I don't take this approach, because I feel it tolerates too much selfishness. However, depending on where your child is, it may be the right approach for you.
Seek spiritual inspiration before you decide which approach you will take. God will instruct you so that you can best instruct your son.
Incidentally, I find it interesting that an international television network is going around the world looking for families who are religious. They are doing documentaries on Baptist families, Muslim families, Latter Day Saint families, etc. This network has spoken with me as well. They want to show the world that families who live by certain religious and family standards raise amazing children who know what it means to make the world a better place. There is a connection between a religious foundation and self government. Religion builds tall barriers which are ready to soak up the principles of self government.